The Stakeout on Outlaw Hill has reinvented itself.
With a facelift and a new approach to events and dining, the old beloved local haunt now promotes itself as “New Mexico’s premier venue, a reprieve from modern life, and an iconic location for ceremonies and celebrations.”
Outlaw Hill, where the legendary old eatery is located, has a long reputation as a stop over for Outlaws headed South, including the James Gang and Billy the Kid, who it is said not only camped here, but buried looted goods, including gold coins, in these hills.
During the ‘70’s Dennis Hopper and his friends spent many evenings here, adding to the “Outlaw” mystique of the rambling house turned restaurant.
At 7,200 ft., the Stakeout overlooks the Rio Grande Gorge with sweeping vistas that are breathtaking at any time of day, but most especially when the sun is setting. From the Stakeout one can see the Pedernal, made famous by Georgia O’Keeffe, as well as Tres Orejas and Taos Mountain. Gazing out at the horizon, one understands why Outlaw Hill not only was a pit-stop for desperados on the run but also provided them with the ideal lookout for approaching lawmen coming from any direction.
Five or so, years ago, an old friend of mine who had visited me here a few times, arrived with the intention to buy property to build “something sustainable.”
Well as we know the best laid plans are often waylaid and instead, Janie Romer and her husband Mark Barker found themselves buying and renovating a building that had stood empty and abandoned for almost a decade. After I made the introduction, the late realtor, Pedro Gonzalez had taken Janie to see the place on a whim and all the dreams of a quiet spot beside a stream evaporated.
Janie, who is an artist and musician with a background in design, worked at Vogue in NYC back in the ‘80’s when we first met. The Stakeout’s new look is all due to her singular vision along with the collaboration of her two extremely talented sons, Oscar and CJ Burnett.
The dark warren of rooms were gutted and the entire building was opened up to bring the extraordinary views into the interior. Without damaging the integrity of the space and with a nod to its Wild West, site specific history, the love and care that went into the restoration shows in every well considered detail.
In fact, CJ is still a force to be reckoned with behind the Stakeout scenes; it was he who suggested the stellar team now managing the venue and events, An event at the Stakeout provides both a romantic and historic private setting with world class support staff lead by Cecilia Cuff and chef, Antoine Balourdet.
Cecilia Cuff started out event planning at Oprah Winfrey Studios in Chicago, before going on to help launch several brands with spectacular opening events at high end venues before moving to Taos to work at Taos Ski Valley as the Food & Beverage Director as well as curation of VIP experiences for several multi-day music festivals.
Cecilia’s client list includes celebrities from Sheryl Crow and Snoop Dog to Rihanna, Kanye West, Seal, Brad Pitt & Angela Jolie. Her experience managing 100+ person teams for companies including giant corporations like Frito Lay and Pepsi with multimillion-dollar annual budgets or hosting intimate VIP groups of 25 as well as producing galas for a guest list of over 3,000, led Cecilia to open her own firm, The Nascent Group. She is now a managing, operating partner at the Stakeout.
With the support of “local farmers, ranchers, chefs, distillers, winemakers, hoteliers and her richly diverse and respected staff,” she notes that “the future of the Stakeout on Outlaw Hill is undeniable.” One member of her crew, Chef Antoine Balourdet came to Taos from Provence, and is known for his fusion of classic French cuisine with Nouvelle American and local flavors. His inclusion in this venture adds a certain cache’. Balourdet, besides being a talented chef, is an accomplished equestrian who can often be seen around town in his well-worn boots and Cowboy hats: an anomaly with his thick Provencal accent! At this point he qualifies as a true Taos character.
The Stakeout opens its doors for a carefully curated ticketed dinner series each month to invite locals to share the space with visitors to the area, when the venue is not being used for larger events such as weddings and other Gala occasions. The private dinners go on sale at the beginning of each month and are a collaboration between unique partnerships Cecilia forges with local winemakers, farmers, brewers and distillers.
Each Stakeout dinner series is paired with local art, live music and the sunsets over the valley which as you can see from these images, are spectacular at any time of year. The pop-ups’ inclusion of carefully crafted cocktails, perfectly paired wines and beer is inspired by the historical period when cocktails grew out of locally sourced herbs, seasonal tinctures, medicine and home remedies. “Our mixology crew are world traveled, competition veterans and ready to serve up libations that your guests will tell stories of forever more. “ Says Cecilia,
When I attended one of these dinners with a few friends recently, it was a sold out event, but other than Mark and Janie, the photographer Jim Cox and the Stakeout staff, we didn’t know a soul there. Mostly an older demographic had gathered on Outlaw Hill, drawn apparently by online promotion from Colorado, Texas as well as Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Few, if any, locals attended.
We went out onto the terrace to enjoy the view before dinner, and although hors oeuvres were being passed around on trays, none were offered to us. The service at dinner was fine so I figured it was early on in the game and they needed to get the kinks out.
Though the service at the table was friendly and efficient, the food however was also a bit inconsistent that night: The first course, a delicious soup served family style at long tables set the tone for the Spanish themed dinner paired with suggested wines from the Cellar. It was followed by a salad of plain greens, lightly dressed. The main course, Paella, was also delicious but lacked the traditional inclusion of chorizo and chicken, which was served separately as another course.
It seemed almost an afterthought, and was still pink on the inside, and a bit soggy as if parboiled. The potatoes which accompanied it were its equivalent The desert on the other hand, a cobbler made with local fruits and served with locally made ice cream was perfection.
Hopefully, this inconsistency was due to an unfamiliar kitchen/oven and such, knowing how talented the chef can be, but for the price of these dinners, they had better be about more than interesting drink pairings! In a town where people are notorious foodies with the restaurants to prove it, mediocre food and service just isn’t good enough.
That said, the Salsa band from ‘Burque was fab (although a bit hip for the crowd, very few of whom took to the dance “floor”), and being in the beautiful space was a total treat. That alone, along with the sun setting over the Gorge with the Pedernal silhouetted in the distance, was well worth the price of admission.
There’s an event this weekend (Saturday October 26th) in collaboration with popular local distillery, Rolling Still, which includes a safe ride shuttle offered before and after the conclusion of the dinner to and from, their parking lot in town. The menu, which you can see on the site linked below, looks amazing! And I’m sure by now all kinks are ironed out. Each dinner series does sell out quickly so advance ticket purchase is recommended.
For more information on this upcoming dinner event and others over the season, as well as to book the venue for weddings and private events, please visit the Stakeout’s site.
UPDATE: People who attended this most recent event have reported back to me. No more glitches, kinks were ironed out and the evening was by all accounts, simply fab – from the food to the cocktails, raves all ’round!
All images thanks to the Stakeout